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I went on vacation recently and took this huge stack of books, thinking I was going to have a ton of time for reading. I always pack way more books than I can read–but you never know when you might need an emergency mystery, or A Duke in Shining Armor.
It’s been known to happen.
While this stack is a nice mix of all my favorites–romance, mystery, historical, and fantasy–I found myself reaching for and diving into the fantasy books–Robin Hobb’s second book in her Farseer series, Royal Assassin, and A Reaper at the Gates, the most recent book by Sabaa Tahir.
Both books have all the things I want in a great fantasy book–amazing world building, well-crafted characters, and great writing. These are books that invite you into a new world and take you on a journey.
Royal Assassin is the second book of Robin Hobb‘s I’ve read. Her writing is rich–in that it takes time to read. This isn’t a book you skim and forget. This is a book that is meant to be read. A story to be entered, to be surrounded by the words and the characters she’s created.
I fell hard into the Farseer landscape, literally headfirst, when I discovered Assassin’s Apprentice, and I fell in love with Fitz. He’s a heart wrenching kid lost in a dangerous court who has to learn to survive. I saved Royal Assassin for my vacation, knowing that I would want to have all the uninterrupted time I could get to read it.
Boy, was I glad I did. Well worth savoring. Fitz grows stronger, faces new adversaries and old, still very dangerous ones, and the supporting characters continue to surprise and delight–Patience, the new Queen, and Burrich–who steals my heart whenever he steps on the page.
I have the third book, Assassin’s Quest on my shelf. Usually I like to read series I’ve fallen in love with one at a time, a few months apart, if only to treat myself. I’m not a binge reader. But I’ve already queued this book up to the top of the pile.
Sabaa Tahir‘s Ember in the Ashes series continues with A Reaper at the Gates. Often times with YA series, the first book is fabulous, but then the series on the whole falls flat as the author rushes the next two books out.
Not. So. Here.
This series started off with a bang and hasn’t stopped. Her characters have grown with each book and the stakes keep getting higher. Each book is a roller coaster–and this latest in no exception.
Tahir reveals a big twist in this latest installment, which I kick myself for not seeing it coming, but it was one of those, OMG moments in reading. You know the ones we readers live for?! Yeah, you know.
If you haven’t read this series yet, start with An Ember in the Ashes. I actually would recommend binging this these. I know I just said I don’t usually, but this series is where I would make an exception. There is a lot going on here–lots of stories, so reading them back to back will keep things straight. Just settle in and go for an amazing ride.
Next up, some romance reading. Lorraine Heath, Laura Lee Ghurke’s new book, Governess Gone Rogue, and a Loretta Chase. After all the fantasy wars and battles and magical things, I need a little romance.
Hey folks, just a quick note to let you know that the ebook of Confessions of a Little Black Gown is on sale right now for $1.99.
Yes, you got that right, $1.99!
Can I say that this cover still makes my heart beat faster. I just LOVE this cover. And the heroine, Thalia Langley? I have a little secret about her. Or rather a Confession….
She got her name because I have a penchant for eavesdropping. Sort of like Thalia herself.
I have utterly no shame about listening into conversations taking place in public. I adore them. I get some really interesting tidbits from the next table over at the coffee shop.
The way I see it, if you sit down next to a writer you are fair game.
So there I was writing away, nearly minding my own business, when two young women sat down at the very next table and started gossiping about their friend, Tally.
Tally this, and Tally that. I felt horrible for Tally.
And then what happened? Tally arrives and they greeted her like she was royalty. All their mean, snakey gossip and then this fake love fest. Oh, Tally, how wonderful to see you.
I wanted to spill my latte on the two of them.
But the better revenge was to take this great name, Tally, and turn her into a heroine readers would love and cheer for.
And certainly not gossip over.
So that is the story behind Tally’s namesake. And you didn’t hear it from me. LOL.
According to the powers that be, Confessions of a Little Black Gown is on sale only until January 28th.
Oh, good heavens, how do I pick?! Which three books, of all the books I’ve read this year, would I recommend you give (or get for yourself)? Well, after due consideration, I suggest:
For the Romance Reader
You just can’t miss with Laura Lee Guhrke! Her Lady True Love series just keeps getting better and better and The Trouble With True Love is no exception. While it came out earlier this year, if the romance reader on your list missed it, they’ll be glad you didn’t.
My other pick: Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley. Just a lovely, beautiful story that will keep you guessing until the very end.
For the Eclectic Reader
A Gentleman in Moscow. Everyone on your list should read this elegant, amazing story. Read it just for the words. Amor Towle’s writing is a master class in elegance. And this story–so wonderfully charming and beautiful. It is the book I cannot stop sharing.
My other favorite? The Alice Network, a WWI timeslip story that moves between the war itself and the years after WWII. Heart-wrenching at times, and at others filled with humanity and a mystery that must be unearthed.
For the Fantasy Reader
Finally, maybe you have someone on your list who loves a bit of magic, a bit of fairy tale, a bit of adventure? I thought I had this category all wrapped up until Thanksgiving weekend when I read, Uprooted by Naomi Novik. What a fresh and unique fairy tale story that surprises all the way through. I was thrilled to have two long flights to just sit and devour this book. Give it for the holidays. And get a copy.
And what would have been my other pick? Red Sister by Mark Lawrence. Another strong story I couldn’t put down.
Okay, so that was six books. But it is impossible to stop once you start… You know, when you really love a book–you just want everyone to read it.
What books would you recommend giving this holiday season?
If not, no worries. Believe me, the second half of a book is always quicker to write, especially with that shining light of “The End” glowing ever closer.
And if you have absolutely no clue what I am talking about then you aren’t neck deep in NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. I’ve been dabbling in it this year, but only from the sidelines as a coach and teacher. No offense, but it is a lot more fun to watch from the sidelines like some NFL coach.
“Yeah, Writer, I know that hit must have hurt like hell–who would have thought your characters would just sit down and go on strike. Now remember, you’re the author. You control their destiny. Now shake them up and get back out there.”
Insert high five here, and watch me nod my head in encouragement as I send the tired NaNoWriMo writer back out into the darkness that is the middle of a 50,000 word quest for glory.
Oh, you’ve got to love the view from the sidelines.
So as I stand here, mid-month, mega-phone in hand, (Good God, no one in their right mind would ever give me a megaphone) I offer these three pieces of advice for all you caffeine addicted, hopped up writers who have made it thus far:
1) Conflict – If you are stalled out, then most likely you’ve run out of conflict. Either your characters have solved all their problems, or you haven’t made the stakes high enough, challenging enough to last through the entire book. Go back and revisit the impetuous, the problem that is/or was the grease that moves your story along and see where it ran thin. Think of conflict as Two Dogs, One Bone. What is the bone between your protagonist and their goal? Gnaw on that and see what comes of it.
2) Change – Your characters should be changing throughout your story, but most notably they will go through these four stages: Denial, Resistance, Exploration, and Manifestation. (If you time, go give this episode of Writing Excuses a listen wherein Mary Robinette Kowal presents DREAM in a clear and easy 15 minute lesson)
Then ask yourself, where are your characters on this continuum? What are the lessons and skills your character is going to have to have to solve the problems they are facing. Your job as the author is to guide them through the specific events you’ve handpicked to teach them those lessons. Get them working!
3) Plotting— When you get stuck and can’t find your way out of the darkness of your story with a flashlight and a map, then take a blank piece of paper and write down 20 things that could happen in your book. Then write 20 more. Keep writing down everything you think of, no matter how crazy or ridiculous. Just keep brainstorming. The pieces of your story are there inside your head, you just need to root around and find them. I talked about this last month in in this blog, 3 Tips to Crush NaNoWriMo.
And remember, when you get to Thanksgiving and there are only a few days in November left, pumpkin pie is considered to be quite the creative impetuous. I’m quite sure of that.
Would Coach Elizabeth ever lie?
If you have any questions, please add them to the comments or shoot me a tweet!
The theme for the #Romancestagram hashtag over on Instagram this month is “Romance Retellings.” I have to say, this is one of my favorite themes so far, both as a reader and a writer.
Every month as the themes are announced, I scan to see if I have any books or favorite reads to share, and usually I have one or two, but this month is an embarrassment of riches. Or should I just confess–like most romance authors, I simply love retelling a classic, a favorite fairy tale, or giving a new spin to that old, adored movie.
Take Fairy Tales . . .
I mean, they are supposed to end Happily Ever After. At least in theory.
By the way, I have way too much fun coming up with these flat lays for my books. I know, get writing…
I’ve written Cinderella twice. Yes, clearly once was not enough.
But there they are, One Night of Passion and Cynders & Ashe. Both stories are so very different, but they tell one of my favorite ideas: that you can fall in love in a single night. When I came up with the tag line for One Night of Passion — Sometimes Cinderella loses more than just her slipper — I thought my editor was going to fall out of her chair. Well, I did say this was my version . . .
Or take my love affair with Beauty and the Beast. OMG, I love that story. And to that end, I wrote The Viscount Who Lived Down the Lane. My beast was a man broken and tortured by his experiences with war, and my beauty, a persistent young woman who believes in true love (and well organized closets and truly horrible cats).
Those are my contributions so far . . . But November is young. I’ll be posting my takes on Classics and Movies in the coming weeks, so I hope you are following me on Instagram or follow along with the #romancestagram hashtag.
But for now, which Fairy Tale story do you like to see retold?
Are you ready to be off and writing? NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month–which challenges a writer to draft a book in a month–begins next week and so before you begin furiously writing your story, I have three tips to ensure your story keeps moving forward for NaNoWriMo success.
1. Before You Start
Prewrite. Over this weekend, consider jotting down an outline for your story. It can be as simple as setting up your Scrivener files and filling your Corkboard with all the ideas you have brimming around inside of you! You’ll find as you fill out your story, more ideas will come to you and by the time November 1st arrives, you’ll have a great roadmap to follow.
Another way to get organized is to use the Levenger Circa system. I LOVE these notebooks for my working pages and notes–because unlike a three ring notebook, you can just pop the pages out and put them back in wherever you want. These notebooks are great for drafting and editing and keeping notes while you are writing. I especially love the colored lined filler pages for different storylines. Be careful–Levenger products are addictive. But in a good way.
Then, each day, I know this sort of sounds crazy, but some time during the day before you sit down at the keyboard, think about where you want to begin and sketch it out with a pencil/pen and paper. This will more often than not give you the sort of creative jump start that can lead to more words on a whole, quicker and with less drama.
Do it first thing in the morning, at lunch, or on the bus. Whenever you have a spare 15 minutes. I am always amazed at how this simple exercise fills the creative tank.
Because by drafting the ideas you have, or just playing around with your story for a bit of time before you start writing allows you to plant yourself in the right spot and you’ll be ready to write when you get to the keyboard.
Can’t think of what to write? Jot down dialogue–no tags, no descriptors, just the dialogue. Sketch out the setting. Write down what your characters WANT out of the next scene or scenes. I like to do to do this the night before I write, just to give the ideas a bit of time to ping around in the imagination. Then when you sit down to write, just start transcribing your notes and before you know it, the scene begins to unfold before you.
2. When You Get Stuck
Brainstorm. When you get stuck, (which you will, but no sweat) make a List of 20 things. Anything. Again, get out the paper and pencil, and start tossing out anything and everything. And when I say everything, I mean it, no matter how crazy it is, just get to 20. Trust me, the good stuff comes bubbling up to the surface about numbers 16 and 17. For more on the List of 20, read this post.
Need some prompts: What could happen in the next scene? Where will your characters end up? What will your characters say to each other?
3. Still Stuck?
3) Drive Around the Accidents. Seriously. Accidents happen in writing. Moments when the story detours. Something isn’t working. You can see where you want your story to go–say like in the next scene, but the current scene and your stubborn characters aren’t cooperating.
Sigh. But rather than beat yourself up and despair over your lack of progress, drive around the accident. Put a place marker in your manuscript and skip ahead. I like to just add a “XXX” and then drive around that frustrating roadblock.
And don’t look back until a solution presents itself. When it does, just do a search for the “XX” and fill in that pothole.
After having written 26 books, and driven around my fair share of writing collisions, the solution always comes up eventually. I promise.
Good luck with your NaNoWriMo project! Do you have tips that help you to keep your word count moving? Please share them in the comments section.
Why are you going to a conference?
If the first thought that pops into your head is “to sell my book” then you are going for the wrong reason.
At least IMHO. I think I’m the only person I know who has ever sold a book at conference. Oh, and Gerri Russell with the American Title contest. And even then, the decision to buy those two books had been made weeks earlier–not at conference.
Believe me, editors do not wake up in a strange hotel, surrounded by hordes of ready-to-be-published authors and think, “wow, I could buy all the books I want today.” Not unless they want to start a feeding frenzy and find themselves missing limbs and fingers before the mystery chicken lunch.
Oh, I can hear you muttering the next question already. “So, if I’m not there to sell a book, why would I spend all that money, take away all that time, burn up vacation days, leave the family (okay, that one perhaps is justification for a whole lot of things) or eat conference lunches for three days straight and not want to sell my book?”
And here is my first and foremost answer:
Or in other words, education, baby, education. This is the perfect time to fill in holes where your writing may be lacking. Yes, Lacking.
We all know where we bite when it comes to our writing. What it is that is keeping you from selling. And if you don’t think you have anything that is holding you back, then ask your critique group or a writing friend you trust to give you the straight poop.
And then listen. No, I mean it. LISTEN.
This is often the hardest part, but the most necessary one. And don’t think, that just because you’ve finished more than one book, written (or sold) a dozen plus books, that your writing is all it can be.
Mine isn’t. That’s why about once a year I pin my editor or agent down and ask them what I should do to make my writing better. What about my books could be improved? I look at reviews from reviewers that I respect and listen to their comments. I listen to my readers and know where I have my work cut out for me. Then I pinpoint what I need to do and I work on it–with books, articles, and podcasts. And the bestest of all: conference workshops with seasoned writers.
That is why a writer’s conference can be your best leg up. Not to sell, but to IMPROVE.
If you have a weak spot or two, then this is your chance to make the real difference in your career. When will you ever have the time to spend 3-4 days just learning about writing? We all make great plans to learn, but when the time comes, it gets gobbled up by families, jobs and, well, writing. But having the tools and knowledge to craft a great book is the most important thing you can ever invest in.
And that toolbag should be nourished and revitalized at every opportunity.
Books don’t sell because you you spent hours stalking editors in bathrooms and at luncheons. Books sell because the writing is smooth, the story compelling, and the characters are crisp and interesting. That takes being skilled, or at the very least, pretty competent on all the elements that go into a book.
Plotting. Motivation. Conflict. Dialogue. Rewriting. Rewriting again.
Knowing that you need to revise it a third, fourth or fifth time and being willing to make that commitment no matter how tired you are of that story.
It’s craft that sells books. It’s craft that keeps readers buying book after book after book.
So go to conference and learn everything you can. Plug those holes in your arsenal. Go to workshops. Take notes. Ask questions. Ask table mates at meals which workshops they went to and how good they were. And if they come with a good recommendation, go hear what else that speaker has to say.
Make sure you have the skills to write a book that will make an editor jump up and down with excitement. And she isn’t going to buy it thirty seconds after you give your absolutely perfect pitch. (Don’t know how to do that? Read my post on Have You Packed Your Pitch.)
She’s going to buy it when she reads the pages. All of them. Months from now. After you’ve applied everything you’ve learned to make your story worth her while.
So what do you need to learn?
Note: Conferences aren’t cheap. And maybe right now you can’t get to one for a myriad of reasons. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do your own conference at home. Take a look at one of my most popular posts: Feeding the Muse. There you’ll find a list of the best books on writing. Get your craft on at home!
When going to a writers conference, you need to pack more than comfortable shoes. You need to pack your best pitch.
Because when you get that face to face with an editor, you want to rock your pitch.
Here’s how to put your pitch together with all the right elements, and get it polished and packed for a writing conference.
A good pitch will convey your enthusiasm for your project, reveal the mood of the story and create enough excitement and curiosity in the editor to entice them to request a proposal. What pitching doesn’t need to be is a heart-stopping, frightening experience. No matter how you shake with unnecessary nerves or how badly you stutter through your pitch, chances are excellent that if your story fits the editor’s line and is something she is looking for, she will ask to see a proposal.
So relax. A good pitch will do the work for you. Your only task when you enter an agent/editor appointment is to have done your homework.
1. Can you explain your story in High Concept? High Concept (HC) is a Hollywood term for presenting a story idea in one line, giving the audience an overview of both story plot and theme. Yes, you read that correctly, one line. If you’ve seen the movie, “The Player” then you are familiar with this method. The first step in preparing your pitch is to find your HC, which is essentially utilizing familiar plots, stories and myths in comparison to your story.
When I started working on my book, STEALING THE BRIDE, I used the HC line, “It Happened One Night meets the Jane Austen.”
I once heard Susan Wiggs describe her book THE LIGHTHOUSE as “Beauty and the Beast in a lighthouse.”
Now you find yours.
2. Why High Concept works. Any time you use a familiar theme/story/fairy tale, it comes ready made with emotion, memories, and images. By using fairy tales, myths, beloved movies and legends that everyone is familiar with, you compare and contrast your book setting an immediate mood. You don’t need to spend a lot of time on back story or other elements of your plot, because the moment you use an HC pitch, the editor knows exactly what your manuscript is all about.
If I were to say, “Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending,” you immediately know this is a story of star-crossed lovers from feuding families who don’t die at the end.
3. After the HC, what comes next? The body of the pitch tells the editor how you have spun a new take on a familiar story. A good pitch will create excitement about your story, reveal theme, entice readers with the conflict and convey the uniqueness of your story.
In essence what I’m describing are the elements of a back copy blurb (BCB). Take four or five books that are similar to what you write and study the back copy, paying particular attention to the use of language and structure. (Here are the BCBs for Six Impossible Things, Along Came a Duke, and Brazen Angel) One very important thing to remember: a BCB leaves you hanging as to story resolution, a good pitch won’t!
4. The real work begins. To start, divide a sheet of paper into three sections, heading one with the name of your heroine, the other, your hero, and the third, write in your HC line. (If you aren’t writing a romance, you can just use your main characters.)
Under each section, brainstorm at least twenty words that describe each of these headings. Try to avoid physical descriptions, rather think of words which get at the character’s essence. For the heroine of STEALING THE BRIDE, Lady Diana Fordham, I used: spinster, daring, resolute, determined, inventive, crafty, sensual, risk taker, concealed, audacious, etc. These words reveal her personality, her conflict, her goals, her story. When you are finished, you have a project orientated thesaurus from which to draft your pitch.
5. Drafting your pitch. In the first two paragraphs, outline the conflict and goals for your characters. Again, go look at the BCBs linked above and read the copy, or pull similar books from your shelves and begin reading the backs. The more you study, the more you read, the more you’ll see how great BCBs are crafted.
As you work:
• Try to draw out the theme, mood or quality of the story by using words from your thesaurus. If the story is suspense, the audience should feel the drama in your story. If it is a warm and fuzzy romance, the audience should go away feeling the need for a cozy blanket and cup of cocoa.
• Next, make sure you have demonstrated that your heroine and hero’s goals/conflict are opposing. Simply put, show how your story conflict is “two dogs, one bone,” that the character’s goals are in opposition. Show the editor that your story has depth and the hero and heroine are going to be battling from the first page to the resolution to have that bone.
• For what I call the collision paragraph, I try to demonstrate the romance of the story. Why these two people are so different or alike and why they will ultimately find love and romance. Again, this is a great place to draw your HC theme into the pitch, and look for language that will evoke the sexual tension/mood of your story.
• Finally, make sure your language includes your enthusiasm for your story. This is your 30 seconds of fame, make it the most memorable 30 seconds of your audience’s life. Leave them breathless to read your entire story.
6. Practice your pitch. Find someone who has never heard the elements of your story before and practice your pitch on them. Listen carefully to their questions, because these may well be the same questions an editor will ask, and you can either rework your pitch to fix the holes or have a ready answer with which to fill in the questions.
Anticipate as many questions as you can about conflict, motivation, plot devices and the resolution, and then think out or write out your answers.
When You Get There
7. During the appointment. Here is where you need to breathe. The appointment is just that, an appointment. The next 10 minutes will not make or break your life. Truly. So just breathe and do your thing.
In group appointments, listen to the questions the editor asks other authors. This will give you a good idea as to what the editor is looking for and what they don’t want to see. Refocus your pitch accordingly.
Don’t ever monopolize the conversation, comment on other pitches, or interrupt anyone else. Never.
Politely introduce yourself, offer your HC line, and then after taking another deep breath and therefore allowing your marvelous idea to set the mood, give your complete pitch and then close your mouth and smile. Answer questions from the editor with direct, concise answers. Thank them for their time and ask them if they would like to see the complete manuscript or sample chapters and a synopsis.
That’s it. Done. Kudos. Huzzah.
8. After the appointment. Make sure you send the editor exactly what they requested promptly. Sadly, editors say that they hear wonderful story ideas all the time and then never see the manuscripts. I know!!
Have your requested materials headed for the editor’s Inbox as soon as you get home. Write “Requested Materials” in the subject line and remind the editor in the opening lines of your email that you met at the “XYZ” conference and the attached materials are what they requested, consider putting in a few lines from your pitch to remind them about your story and then let the magic happen.
Good luck and Happy Conferencing! Questions? Drop a line in the comments or send me a note on Twitter. Links in the sidebar.
Like this post? Here’s another popular post: The 21 Best Books on Writing
I’ve been on a reading binge–anything and everything. As you’ve probably noticed, I don’t read just one type of book, I read all over the place. I always have. And my July reads were no different as evidenced by these four very unique stories.
Looking for something new? Have you read:
Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews
How is it that I missed this series the first time around? I should be pointing fingers at all my friends who didn’t insist that I READ the Kate Daniels series, starting with the first book, Magic Bites, but apparently now is my turn to dive into this fun and snarky and witty urban fantasy series about magical detective, Kate Daniels. The world building is fascinating, the characters sharp and well drawn, and Kate, well, Kate is just what you want in an urban fantasy–tough, hard as nails and wise-cracking. I adored her. Now I have an entire series to devour and kick ass through. Lucky me.
And hell yes, “Here, Kitty, Kitty.”
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
In Mary Robinette Kowal’s reimagined history of the space race, the earth has been hit by a huge meteor, giving the need to get off the planet a whole new urgency. But further than that, The Calculating Stars gives us a female heroine who will shake up the status quo and push toward a more inclusive vision for the future of space travel and society.
The Calculating Stars is a tour de force in both science and society, as Elma York, mathematical genius and pilot aiming for her spot in space, takes center stage in saving humanity. I can’t wait for the next one, The Fated Sky, which will be coming out in a few weeks.
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
I went down to Denver to see a bunch of friends who were in town for Romance Writers of America, and what did we talk about? Why books, of course! And The Alice Network was mentioned several times.
So this amazing piece of historical fiction immediately got slipped to the top of the July mix. And, OMG, what an incredible read. I LOVED this book. The Alice Network is the story of two women, both involved in war time tragedies (World War I and II) and how their lives get entangled after WWII.
This book has all the great chills–adventure, suspense, a bit of romance and of course, the bonds of friendship. I could not put The Alice Network down and have been telling everyone to read it since I finished it, like yesterday.
Now I am telling you. Hint. Hint. Nudge. Nudge.
Dollybird by Anne Lazurko
Dollybird was recommended by several people I met at the Western Writers Association conference in Montana in June. Intrigued, I ordered it. The story centers around the story of a young woman from Eastern Canada who finds herself unwed and pregnant and sent by her family to Saskatchewan to have her baby far from prying eyes. But after a series of mishaps and the loss of her money, she ends up a “dollybird”, the hired housekeeper of a man trying to make it on a rough claim in the middle of the prairie. I wanted to love this book, and I liked a lot about it, but I do wish that it had more depth. I wanted that next emotional layer that seemed to be missing. But all in all, I would recommend it because it is a wonderful examination of life at the turn of the century when there was still a lot of wild country left to be settled.